One of comedy mogul Judd Apatow’s most creditable achievements has been allowing underappreciated directors a shot at mainstream success. Take Greg Mottola: despite making a promising debut – 1996 indie charmer ‘The Daytrippers’ – this filmmaker was languishing in TV purgatory until Apatow hired him in 2007 to direct pottymouthed-teen two-hander ‘Superbad’. That film’s success led to a production deal for ‘Adventureland’, a more restrained but equally insightful study of the high-school comedown.
It’s summer 1987, and James (Jesse Eisenberg) is all set for a character-building European adventure, until the shock revelation that his parents’ financial blunders have hoovered up all his travelling money. Strapped for cash and trapped in his Pennsylvania hometown, James signs on at the local amusement park, uncovering a world of emotional intrigue, sexual indiscretion and frustrated ambition.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in ‘Adventureland’ – the plot amounts to little more than the usual round of infatuation and heartbreak, betrayal and self-discovery – but it’s Mottola’s approach that makes it special. His technique is to treat his teenagers not as overgrown kids but as unformed adults, awkwardly testing the limits of their emotional, moral and intellectual identities. It’s as much about trial and error as adolescent romance, as James and pals try out different personas and partners until they find a style that fits.
It doesn’t always work: some characters get short shrift, while the collision between soul-searching and slapstick jars. But as a sweet-natured character comedy – and a subtle exercise in generic boundary-pushing – this is a real charmer.
Read an exclusive interview with the director